Movie Poster of the Week: Hubert Sauper’s “Epicentro”

The process and influences behind Sam Smith’s designs for Sauper’s new documentary about Cuba.
Adrian Curry

Above: US one sheet for Epicentro (Hubert Sauper, Austria/France, 2020). Design by Sam Smith.

Recently I had the pleasure once again of working with one of my favorite movie poster designers: Sam Smith (a.k.a. Sam’s Myth). In my capacity as Design Director of Zeitgeist Films and now Kino Lorber we have worked together in the past on posters for Elena and The Mountain. Granted, Sam does all the work; as art director I just steer him in the right direction. This was especially true of our latest poster collaboration, for Kino Lorber’s new documentary Epicentro which opens in virtual cinemas today. Directed by Hubert Sauper (Darwin’s Nightmare), Epicentro is a beautiful cine-essay about post-colonial Cuba and so it was a no-brainer to play off one of the greatest design sources in the world: the screen printed movie posters of post-revolutionary Cuba produced by ICAIC—the Cuban Institute of Cinemagraphic Arts—in the 1960s and ’70s. These posters are among my very favorite works of art (the 2010 book Soy Cuba: Cuban Cinema Posters from After the Revolution is an essential reference and one of the most beautifully produced film poster books in existence). And I knew that if any graphic designer knew his stuff when it came to Cuban design it was Sam, who, along with fellow poster maven Brandon Schaefer, produced a whole Poster Boys podcast on Cuban movie posters in 2016 (you can listen to it here).

According to Sam, it was another book of Cuban posters (Revolución! Cuban Poster Art) that “singlehandedly made me decide to start designing movie posters. I saw these iconic and minimal designs with bold colors and clean silkscreen techniques and realized ‘I could do that!’” Indeed it is not simply Sam’s knowledge of Cuban posters that made me want to hire him for Epicentro, but his distinctive illustration style which has many affinities with Cuban design: flat planes of bright color, simple yet witty images and an exquisite use of type.

Sam first came up with 7 different comp designs and presented them to us side-by-side with the Cuban inspirations for each one. We immediately fell in love with the “Camera as War” design which became the basis of the eventual poster.

We loved the iconic simplicity of the design with its idea of the movie camera as a weapon (the influence of cinema being an important part of Sauper’s film) and we loved the eye-grabbing use of color. We also liked the title treatment with the Es of Epicentro made from the stripes of the Cuban and U.S. flags. But at the same time we thought it made the name a little hard to read and so we had Sam incorporate the Cuban flag into a third panel of the poster and he came up with a brilliant alternative title treatment: a very geometric typeface whose concentric circles in the C and O hint at the epicenter of the title.

Below are the four inspirations for this design up close. I’m not sure whether it’s a coincidence but three of the four were designed by Alfrédo Gonzalez Rostgaard who Sam in the podcast calls one of the greatest of all the Cuban designers.

Clockwise from top left: 1986 Cuban poster by Emeria Verde for a Cuban Film Festival in France; 1966 Cuban poster by Alfrédo Gonzalez Rostgaard for Promising Future (Román Gubern & Vincent Aranda, Spain, 1965); 1966 Cuban poster by Rostgaard for Skies Above (Yves Ciampi, France/Italy, 1965); and 1966 Cuban poster by Rostgaard for The Robber (Jorge Fraga, Cuba, 1965).

My other favorite of Sam’s comps was the black and white variant on the “Camera as War” idea, the four touchstone inspirations for which are all stunners. But we ultimately felt that bright color is such an integral part of Cuban poster design (not to mention of the film itself) that it seemed a shame to produce a monochrome poster.

We loved the colors in the “Montage” comp and especially the reflection of the triangular camera beam in the red triangle of the Cuban flag (which Sam then incorporated into the final design) but we felt that the three panels were stronger and more immediate, especially when these days (and especially these days) posters are more often seen 150 pixels tall on a screen rather than 40 inches high on a wall.

Below are four more comps (all coupled with superb reference points) which were all very strong. Any of these would have made a very striking poster on its own terms.

Many thanks to Sam Smith.

Epicentro opens in virtual cinemas across the United States today via Kino Marquee.

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Movie Poster of the WeekCuban movie postersCubaHubert SauperAlfrédo Gonzalez RostgaardColumns
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